September 22, 2023
The Richmond Parks Department received grant funding from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove the Weir Dam across the Whitewater River next to Veterans Memorial Park. The nearly 120-year-old concrete barrier will be demolished over several weeks this fall as Richmond joins a growing list of communities and landowners who have removed obsolete low-head dams for human safety and environmental concerns.
“The Weir Dam has been identified in many studies as an opportunity to make these types of modifications to improve our local water quality, fisheries, and public safety for increased recreational uses in public waters,” said Denise Retz, Superintendent of Richmond Parks and Recreation.
“The removal of this dam joins a growing trend across the state,” said Doug Nusbaum of the Lake and River Enhancement Program at the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. “Over the last decade, local and state agencies have made a concerted effort to address these defunct, in channel obstructions that prohibit fish migration and recreational opportunities.”
FlatLand Resources (FLR), has been hired as the contractor to remove the obsolete structure. Based out of Muncie, IN, FLR has spent nearly a decade advocating for and removing dams across Indiana and Ohio. Leveraging federal, state, and local partnerships, FLR has been a part of thirteen dam removal or modification projects, from the feasibility study and public engagement, stage to permitting and design, through to construction and mitigation plans. This project is just the next stepping stone in FLR’s desire to make meaningful changes to water quality across the Midwest.
“The USFWS funding is specifically tied to increasing fish passage on rivers in the Ohio River basin,” explained Kevin Haupt of the USFWS. “The Weir dam removal project provides the USFWS a unique opportunity to study a species of very small darter fish and their ability to migrate upstream after the dam's removal. This study will be combined with data collected at other similar projects to show the biological and ecological benefits of dam removal.”
“Richmond and the surrounding area has multiple dams with functional uses and cultural significance to residents,” explained Denise Retz. “But there are a few, such as the Weir Dam, that no longer serve their intended purpose. It’s these structures that the City has been seeking grant money for their removal. This is a much needed step in the right direction to work through our vast amount of improvements that will be coming to the Whitewater Gorge over the next five years.”
While the exact origins of the Weir Dam have been lost to history, it is known that it either powered a nearby mill or pooled water used for cooling during energy production at the nearby Richmond Power and Light. Built between 1913 and 1918 to replace the original structure that was destroyed by the Great Flood of 1913, the Weir Dam no longer serves a functional purpose. Additionally, the dam obstructs fish passage and significantly reduces ecological health along the length of the backwater pool. One example of a species affected by an unmodified dam structure is the American Eel, which begins its life cycle in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and travels upstream in freshwater rivers until maturity when it will then return to the ocean to reproduce. While historically common to the region, the utilization of dams and reduction in water quality has forced the eels to other feeding grounds.
Midwest dam removals have become increasingly common as these aging structures deteriorate, and recreational opportunities become more of a priority for communities. Low-head dams produce a significant safety hazard for humans and a barrier to fish passage that contributes to decreased water quality and fragments biological communities. Across the country, 65 dams were removed in 2022. Richmond is proud to join other communities in implementing dam removals and modifications within the state of Indiana. The removal of the Weir dam will benefit all local aquatic species, especially the American Eel and native mussel communities, and provide people with more continuous and safer passage along the Whitewater River. It is the hope that others can follow this example and help improve waterways around the state for both fish and recreation.
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